Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Monday, August 27, 2012

Cheap Travel Tips: Champagne Travel on a Toast Budget

I have been liaising with a lovely reader who is interested in the inaugural Flowers, Frocks & Horticultural Fantasies Tours. (AKA The Grand Botanical Tour – link here; we're still workshopping the title.) She's been investigating flights. She's rather keen, bless her. I've been helping her with airlines – even though we've not even finalised the itinerary yet. (So it's a little like putting the wheelbarrow before the gardening spade. But that's never stopped this writer from dreaming and scheming and scheduling, nor should it stop anyone else. I'm all for a well-organised tour.)

This lovely reader has been investigating Business Class fares to London. She received a quote from Qantas for A$12,000. (US$12,000) Some seats were even $15,000. Premium Economy was $6,500. That is just CRAZY.

Qantas, what are you THINKING?

{Image of Andree Putman's slick steamer trunk for Poltrona Frau. Which possibly costs more than Qantas' fares.}

As this charming reader and I wept at the horrors of Business Class prices (I'd hate to think what First would cost), I thought I would do a post on affordable travel. I'm sure more of you would love some travel tips. Many of you may even have some of your own to contribute.

Someone has already recommended this gorgeous, newly restored place to me (above) – the St James Hotel in Paris, created on the site of the first ever hot-air balloon airfield in the city and decorated with witty hot air balloon motifs. It's the only chateau hotel in Paris but the interior has a carousel-style lightness and charm to it. It also has a website that opens up like a doll's house. Just beautiful. Just a pity the prices are chateau-ish as well. But at least the public areas are free. (Another tip: If you can't afford the rooms, go for breakfast or lunch instead.)

We travel to New York fairly regularly for work – last year I went three times – and rarely do we pay more than A$1300 for a return fare. (US$1300.) That's Melbourne/Sydney to New York. Non-stop. (Okay, an hour in LA.) For $1300. We often upgrade to Premium Economy seats too, for just $150. London can be just as cheap. One year I flew for $800 return. I know! I even got a seat for that price!

(For non-Australians, this is a good deal. Don't forget we're a 24-hour flight from London. For those who don't know where Australia is, we're down near Antarctica. A geography lesson will be forthcoming.)

This is how our family travels. The Frugalist's Way.

1. Subscribe to Travel Websites.
Then, when specials are advertised (notifications are sent by email), you can jump on them straight away. The best travel sites double as stylish online magazines, most of which post regular articles about new hotels and interesting destinations. And not just those they're affiliated with.

These are the ones I like.

Tablet Hotels
Until recently, Tablet offered great last-minute deals on many of the hotels they represented. I've booked top New York hotels for $200/n through the site. Suites, too. This seems to have slowed / stopped. But it's still a fantastic source for good deals. (Look up their specials page.) Not to mention inspiration, ideas or just travel porn. (Their articles are really witty.)  Oh – and their photos are so luscious, you'll want to book on sight. Tablet, you're such a tease!

Mr and Mrs Smith
Several years ago Mr and Mrs Smith jumped on the Hip Hotels bandwagon; a slicker-than-slick book-and-travel-website business model started by Herbert Ypma. Herbert seems to have fallen by the Avenue Foch somewhere. Mr and Mrs Smith, in contrast, are sprightlier than pilot taking a suck of the oxygen mask. It's sophisticated, informative, intelligent and full of pretty pix (what we want, really). I've not yet used it to book hotels but I've heard of people securing great deals. And the reviews are entertaining in themselves. This was the description for the Saint James – a place "to wear smoking jackets, chic Chanel monochromes and inky Christian Dior silks (monocle/cigarette holder optional). Packing tips: Flying goggles and headscarf – should the hot-air balloons in the grounds decide to head skywards, you’ve come prepared. Alternatively: leopard-print scarves or stilettos and sexy smalls for your grand boudoir". Gotta love an engaging tour guide.

Best Flights
An Australian-based online operator that always offers great deals. One year I flew to London for $800 return. At the moment, they have an outstanding Cathy Pacific offer: ALL flights to Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London, Milan, Moscow, Paris and Rome, inclusive of taxes, for $1599. That's EVERY DAY from now until March 2013. Pack your bags people! Cathy Pacific is a nice airline, too.

2. Prepay where possible.
I love pre-paying. That way, you don't have the shock of the hotel bill at the end. You can just toss some spare notes down on reception for the mini-bar chocolate and waltz on outta there. But why I really love prepaid deals is because they're always cheaper. I go through In May this year, I paid for 2 nights at the beautiful Gramercy Park Hotel. In prepaying, the room was half price. I could have never afforded to stay there for the rack rate. New York, I miss you.

3. Fly on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. 
I've spoken about this trick before on The Library. Never fly on a Monday morning. It's when the business travellers fly, so they hike up the airfares. Or a Friday night. (When they all fly home again.) Tuesday is a dead day. Fly Tuesdays and you'll often get flights for 50% less.

4. If you're flexible with dates, book city hotels on weekends and country hotels during the week.
City people often leave cities on weekends for a break. Business travellers leave, too. Hotels want bookings on weekends, so they'll lower prices. If I'm going to Paris on a reaaaallly frugal budget, I'll stay in Versailles from Monday to Thursday and commute into Paris on the 30-minute express, then check into a Paris hotel on Friday for the weekend. Strange, I know. But my Versailles hotel is A$90/night or so. Where can you get that in Paris? Then on the weekend, my preferred Paris hotel - Trocadero Dokhan's - is staggeringly cheap. AND there's nobody staying there!

5. Don't be loyal to airlines. 
Do you think they're loyal to you? No. They're worse than a hooker on Sunset Boulevard. They'll swing wherever the business is, baby. So don't choose Qantas simply because it's meant to be a good airline. It's not as good as it was. AND it's expensive. Try other carriers – Cathy, United, Lufthansa. And be wary of some. Singapore is the Rolls Royce of airlines, and charges accordingly. It's not cheap. Virgin is like the Volvo of carriers, but still charges like Rolls Royce. (It's shrugging off its 'Cheap Airline Tag', so watch out prices.) Both Singapore and Virgin have their merits, of course – Singapore's First Class sleeper beds are like nothing on this earth, and Virgin's flight attendants are lovely looking – but don't book them just for their names. Or their pretty faces. Shop around.

More travel tips soon. Cheap travel tips for Business Class travellers too. Oh, I'm giving myself itchy feet just writing about it all!


  1. Too busy now but will go on a trip with you.

    XO T

    1. Can't wait Tara. Come and meet us in London next May! xx

  2. Came across ur site whilst browsing lights over at A-M's blog-HOW LUCKY WAS I?!!! We are looking to travel OS as a family for first time in2014 and this post is EXCELLENT advice.
    I'll certainly be dropping in again. Thanks so very much for sharing your insights:-)

    1. I'm glad. Hope your family holiday is wonderful. You have time to research the best deals so you should be able to pick up a few travel bargains.

  3. MOTH here JMac, ripper post mate, it'll stop Mills dead in her tracks from booking Business Class Singapore Arlines, she was just about to decimate my beer money slush fund! Although I did experience the full force of her misplaced wrath once after picking her up at the Airport after a Syd/LA Business Class return flight on United. If she muttered 'Never again, never again!' once, she said it a zillion times. Very tedious I tell you.
    MOTH (cheap is good) x

    1. How's that painting going MOTH? Ready to come and do our house yet?!

      Yes, some people are not United fans, just as some people are not Qantas fans. We actually like United. I love getting on and hearing some lovely flight attendant from Georgia say "How are y'all this morning? Ready for a great flight?" I've flown Business Class with them and it was fine. But they're not Singapore, of course. I'm not a fan of some airlines, including a certain airline from South America. The flight attendants looked like grim reapers and threw food at you as they passed, and the plane kept lurching through the sky like a three-wheeled billy cart. Never again.

  4. So glad I found your blog - I'm a bit slow but just realised that I have your Paris book and loved it!!! I will now be wasting hours looking at the Tablet Hotels website - looks fabulous. Cheers, Tracey xx

    1. That's lovely of you to say Tracey. Hope you enjoyed it. Yes, Tablet is a great site. Hope it helps you in the future.

  5. Dear Janelle
    It's great for those who can travel Economy as fares are amazingly cheap, especially if you look back and see how little they've gone up in 30 years - relative to other costs as well. However, those of us who are ageing, very tall or worried about DVT may prefer to travel with more leg room in Business Class.

    In our case, husband has insisted for years on travelling business class long haul for health reasons.

    We've put a lot of work into researching airlines and seating/prices/other relevant conditions and generally find that British Airways offers a much better deal than Qantas. We subscribe to Best Flights regular email updates on prices and when a good Business Class deal comes up with BA for when we want, make our booking. Sometimes BA include deals with add on fares to other European destinations at the same standard. These are much cheaper than booking separately.

    This year we flew BA via Singapore and Heathrow to Budapest, returning to Sydney via Paris (you can stop over) and Singapore. It was much much cheaper than the Qantas prices quoted above. There are flat beds on the long haul flights and you can check in 3 bags each if you wish. They're also pretty efficient with baggage and provided you don't do a last minute check-in, all your bags are highly likely to be on the carousel, which can't be said for quite a lot of airlines, including a number of other Europeans that are notorious for lost luggage.

    It's also worth googling Seat Guru and related websites which tell you about the seat specifications (pitch, size, distance from seat in front etc) and individual good and bad seats on specific plane types with the different airlines. Some seats in Business Class can be less desirable and may not be worth paying for so it's important to check on seat types and then try to book a seat number that suits your needs. If you've got a cut-price deal you may not be able to do this without paying a little extra to be able to reserve your preferred option. Of course if you book well ahead of departure time there's more chance of getting the seats you want. Also it's better if you can to avoid travelling on a Friday as planes are generally more likely to be full with overworked cabin crews and less overhead bag space available (though in Business Class this is not usually a problem unless you have an exceptional amount of hand baggage). We try to travel long haul during the week as the crew are generally under a little less pressure, though this isn't infallible. Hope this is helpful for those who are thinking about flying Business Class. Best wishes, Pamela

    1. Pamela, these are great tips - thank you for taking the time to post them!

      BA is a good carrier, and if you can get a free return flight within Europe, it's even better.

      I've heard a lot about Seat Guru. Must try it. Interesting point about the 'less-desirable' seats in BC. Imagine paying $12,000 for a BC seat and then finding you were STILL next to the bathroom / flight attendants' coffee-and-chat area or – worse - the Dead Body Cupboard. (A new addition to the A380s.) Especially if it was full - and there was turbulence! Doesn't bear thinking about, really...

      The DVT issue is a big one. We book Premium Economy seats for this reason. WE also book the same seats each time because we book the same old flight to LA/NY (and then onto London/Paris). You can choose seats right behind Business Class that have a metre of room in front Magnesium is said to help on long-haul flights.

      Hope your knee op was a success. Wishing you all the very best for a quick recovery. xx

  6. I used Mr and Mrs Smith to book our accommodation in Italy in March - all the hotels we chose were fantastic. Free "membership" to the site which means we got a free bottle of wine at each hotel, hotels were very much on the chic boutique side of accommodation and well located (rates compared well to other websites as well - they had a couple of off season specials that made their rates cheaper in some cases). I would definitely use them again for booking accommodation. I would also say that if you are travelling to a known "romantic" weekend destination (such as Venice) be aware that you won't be able to stay only one night on a weekend - they usually make you take Friday and Saturday, even if you wanted to stay Saturday and Sunday. And the rates are much higher on the weekend for those types of destinations.....

  7. Thanks so much for that insight Heide. I've not used Mr and Mrs Smith yet, but have heard good reports so far. They have a satellite office in Melbourne, so they're rapidly expanding across the world.

    Good point, too, about Venice, and indeed all 'romantic' destinations on weekends. I like to stay more than 2 nights at any hotel. Who wants to pack up a suitcase night after night? (I did it every night for 6 weeks on a work trip across 4 countries one year and was a zombie by the end.) Besides, no couple can get truly romantic in just one night...!

  8. Great travel tips provided..Thanks for sharing this informative post.

    1. Thanks Ian. So lovely of you to drop by and leave a comment.

  9. Thanks for sharing this post..It will be of great help to me as I am planning for a vacation trip..

  10. Hope you have a wonderful time! Let me know if I can help in any way with any more travel advice.


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